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Clinton and Secret Service Agents/AFP
Clinton surrounded by Secret Service agents in February (AFP file photo)

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_ Secret Service Agents
Told to Testify
(Washington Post, May 23)

_ Starr vs. Secret Service: Two Definitions of Duty (Washington Post, May 15)

_ Declaration of Secret Service Director Lewis Merletti

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Assassination Risk Cited in Ex-Agents' Brief to Block Queries

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 16, 1998; Page A09

The former Secret Service agents in charge of protecting every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George Bush have asked an appeals court to block independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr from questioning current officers, warning flatly that it would lead to the death of a president, lawyers said yesterday.

The dire prediction, included in a friend-of-the-court brief filed under seal on Friday, echoed the views of Secret Service Director Lewis C. Merletti, who is appealing a decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson ordering two officers and a Secret Service lawyer to testify in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation.

Johnson refused the Secret Service's request to create a new right of confidentiality for presidential bodyguards, dismissing the arguments that the bond of trust would be broken and that chief executives would push their protectors away to shield their privacy.

"It is the unanimous view of these [former agents] that, if not reversed, the decision of the district court in refusing to recognize a protective function privilege will lead inexorably to the successful assassination of another American president in our lifetime," the former agents said in their 33-page brief.

The arguments were much the same as made in the Justice Department brief also filed under seal on Friday on behalf of the Secret Service, but the agents hope they carry extra power because they were the ones charged with taking a bullet to protect the nation's leaders. Signing the brief were all nine living former special agents in charge of the presidential protection division, including Clint Hill, the agent who leaped onto President John F. Kennedy's car moments after the first shot rang out in Dallas in 1963, and Jerry Parr, who shoved President Ronald Reagan into a car to escape John W. Hinckley Jr. in 1981.

In addition, those who filed the brief included three other agents involved in assassination attempts: Timothy J. McCarthy, who was shot by Hinckley while guarding Reagan; Larry Buendorf, who stopped Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme from killing President Gerald R. Ford in 1975; and Nick J. Zarvos, who was wounded when Arthur Bremer shot and crippled presidential candidate George C. Wallace in 1972.

"What the independent counsel is doing is irresponsible," said Warren L. Dennis, an attorney who prepared the brief for the agents along with former Reagan Justice Department official Arnold I. Burns. "It's like he wants to cook his chicken so he's willing to burn down your house to get his chicken cooked."

Starr has until Friday to file his response to the Justice brief and he will have some help of his own. Four former attorneys general plan to file a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that no privilege should be recognized for Secret Service agents because they are charged with enforcing the law.

"Secret Service agents are law enforcement professionals, not members of a personal household guard," said a May 25 letter written by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley on behalf of the former officials. Turley called creation of a new privilege "a great leap -- in the wrong direction. This proposed privilege was suddenly crafted to meet the immediate demands of a criminal investigation."

The signatories included Edwin Meese III, Richard L. Thornburgh and William P. Barr, who served Republicans Reagan and Bush, and Griffin B. Bell, who served Democratic President Jimmy Carter.

In a separate but related matter, the White House yesterday filed under seal its brief appealing Johnson's decision that attorney-client privilege does not prevent Starr from questioning White House deputy counsel Bruce R. Lindsey in the Lewinsky case.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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